Deafness and hearing loss can occur in dogs for a number of reasons. Living with a deaf dog can be confusing for owners without the right tools and knowledge. Fortunately, most deaf dogs live long, happy lives. The key is to learn to communicate effectively and take proper care of your deaf dog.
The canine ear has a complex structure consisting of soft tissue, nerves, cartilage and small bones that work with the brain to collect, convert, conduct and interpret sound. Damage or dysfunction in one or more of these sensitive areas may result in partial or complete hearing loss.
A deaf dog will not hear threats such as oncoming traffic or nearby predators when out alone. His sight and smell may not detect the threat until it’s too late. If your deaf dog is off leash and in danger, you won’t be able to use verbal methods to get it back. For this reason, it is especially important to keep deaf dogs on a leash or in fenced areas. However, this rule applies to all dogs, as even dogs with loose hearing can find it dangerous.
Causes of Deafness and Hearing Loss in Dogs
Severe ear infections, tumors, parasitic infections, drug toxicity, or trauma can damage the tympanic cavity (tympanic membrane) or inner/middle ear, resulting in temporary or permanent deafness. Brain disorders, such as tumors or strokes, can damage parts of the central nervous system that are involved in hearing and can also lead to deafness. Perhaps the most common cause of hearing loss is due to old age. Changes in the inner ear or auditory nerve in older dogs often lead to progressive hearing loss. This is similar to what happens to some people as they age.
Deafness in dogs can also be congenital, meaning it is present at birth. It may or may not be hereditary. Certain dog breeds are more susceptible to congenital deafness, including Dalmatians, English Setters, Havanese, and more. In addition, congenital deafness appears to be associated with pigmentation. Dogs with white coats have a higher rate of congenital deafness.
Diagnosing Deafness in Dogs
Many dog owners don’t notice deafness at first, especially if it happens gradually. Owners of dogs who are born deaf may not realize what’s wrong until the dog seems to have trouble learning the simplest of vocal cues. Simply testing your hearing by making sounds (like clapping or whistling) outside your dog’s line of sight can give you an idea of your dog’s hearing. However, dogs with partial or unilateral hearing loss may still respond.
The only way to know for sure that a dog is deaf is through a special neurological test. The brainstem auditory evoked response test, often abbreviated BAER, looks for the presence of electrical activity in the brain in response to sound stimuli. This is an almost painless test that only takes a few minutes to complete. To do this test on your dog, you will need to find a BAER testing location near you.Because of the type of equipment required, BAER tests are usually only offered at veterinary schools or specialty hospitals.
Deafness and hearing loss treatment and prevention
Some causes of deafness in dogs can be reversed; others cannot.For example, infections and damage to the ear or brain may respond to treatment, but sometimes the damage is irreversible. Your veterinarian should be able to let you know about your dog’s prognosis. If an ear infection or other problem occurs, prompt and thorough treatment can often prevent damage that can lead to deafness.
Responsible dog ownership can help prevent congenital deafness. Dogs of at-risk breeds should undergo BAER testing before being included in a breeding program. Only individuals with two “good” ears should be bred.
The good news is that deaf dogs can lead normal lives.If you have a deaf dog, there are many steps you can take to help with training and communication.
Living with a Deaf Dog
Deafness in dogs is actually not uncommon. Some dogs are born deaf. Others experience hearing loss at some point in their lives. Many older dogs will begin to lose their hearing at some point. Some may be surprised to learn that a deaf dog can lead a very normal, happy life. Sadly, some people believe that deaf dogs should be euthanized, but the reason behind this is that myths about deaf dogs are fueled. Don’t be fooled; deaf dogs can be great dogs! If you have a deaf dog, you already know this. If you’re considering adopting a deaf dog, don’t immediately reject the dog. Caring for a deaf dog does take more work, but the effort is worth it.
In reality, the challenges surrounding dog deafness will fall more on dog owners than on actual dogs. However, these are not really obstacles, but just a different way of doing things. Deaf dog owners must learn other forms of communication. People can easily communicate with deaf dogs through body language and train deaf dogs through gestures. In fact, because dogs do not communicate primarily verbally, you may find that visual cues are more effective than verbal cues, even in hearing dogs.
While a deaf dog will make up for a lack of hearing by using his other senses, it’s important to know that his deafness can make him vulnerable in certain situations.
To get the attention of deaf dogs at a distance, some owners train their dogs to use vibrating remote-controlled collars (not shock collars). When the owner activates it remotely, the dog can be trained to respond to vibrations by looking to the owner for cues.
At the end of the day, deaf dogs are not much different from hearing dogs. They bark, they interact with people and other dogs, and they are well aware of their surroundings. They adapt. All you need to do is know how to adapt.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your veterinarian right away. For health-related questions, be sure to consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know your pet’s health history, and can provide the best advice for your pet.